10 Tips for Traveling Overseas
After I was diagnosed with celiac disease nearly a decade ago, I traveled internationally to London. I’m not sure that trip really counted in terms of navigating my special dietary needs overseas. Not only could I speak the language, I stayed at a friend’s flat and cooked most of my meals in her kitchen. Easy-peasy.
Recently I vacationed in Paris—a huge step outside my gluten-free comfort zone. Its gluten-full croissants, baguettes and crepes are just as famous as the Eiffel Tower. And my high school French wasn’t just rusty; it was essentially gone.
But thanks to some careful planning, the vacation—a 10th wedding anniversary celebration—was a big success.
My husband and I hit all the highlights of Paris while eating well, and most importantly, staying healthy. Here’s how we did it.
1. Eat on the Plane
Start and end your holiday right. Check your airline’s website to see if it offers a gluten-free meal. You’ve paid enough for your airfare; you should be able to eat on the plane. Be sure to arrange the meal(s) ahead of time and to remind your flight attendants about your special-diet request once on board.
2. Get Dining Cards and Apps
Obtain a dining card in the language spoken at your destination or download a translation app. These are available online and many of the apps are free. If you’re traveling to multiple countries with different languages, it may be easier to have an app rather than printed cards. However, having printed cards stashed in your pocket or purse can be a lifesaver if your cell phone battery dies.
3. Map the Town
Create a “gluten-free” map for yourself. There are a number of apps that allow you to do this. Pin any gluten-free or gluten-free-friendly restaurants you come across as you research your trip. This way, you’ve got a plan wherever you are when hunger strikes.
4. Stock Up
For those times you can’t find a safe meal or when hunger pangs hit hard, have some nutrient-dense bars handy. Those without chocolate tend to be less messy, especially in warmer climes. Individually wrapped bars are great travel-ready options. Pack a generous supply in your suitcase and stash a few in your purse or backpack.
5. Find Farmers’ Markets
Once you get settled in, check out the local farmers’ market and pedestrian streets. Here you can fuel up on fresh fruit, veggies, cheese (if tolerated) and more. You may even be able to try something new. I sampled red gooseberries for the first time. There’s great local flavor and people-watching at these markets, too. Be very mindful of the water conditions, however. You don’t want to get sick from eating raw fruit or vegetables that have been rinsed in the local water.
6. Make Location a Priority
Choose your hotel location wisely. If there’s a gluten-free or allergy-friendly restaurant or bakery at your destination, book your lodging within walking distance of it, if possible. There’s comfort in knowing a safe meal is close to home. Don’t forget to ask staff at these establishments if they can recommend other restaurants or have other local food tips to share.
7. Plan a Picnic
Find out if there are grocery stores or restaurant chains that make clearly labeled gluten-free or allergy-friendly salads and prepared foods. These can make great picnics or hearty snacks. Throughout Europe, the gourmet take-out chain, EXKi, has healthy and delicious grab-and-go gluten-free options.
8. Do Your Own Cooking
Consider staying in an apartment or suite with a kitchen. Some of these rentals are only marginally more expensive than many hotels. If you have multiple food intolerances or allergies, having your own kitchen may be your best bet. Check out VRBO.com.
9. Bring Your Faves
Do you love M&Ms? Trident gum? Tic Tacs? Would you be cranky without them? Consider toting along your favorite products so you’re not tempted to grab something you haven’t confirmed is safe. Although you may find these items at your destination, their ingredients may not be the same as the same product in the United States.
10. Enjoy Yourself!
The gluten-free diet is global and those in European countries are becoming more aware and accommodating of food allergies. Chances are you’ll stumble upon gluten-free and allergy-friendly food in unexpected places and find people with some special-diet savoir faire. More than once, I explained my dietary needs and was told, “Yes, I have a friend who can’t eat gluten either.”
Senior medical correspondent Christine Boyd lives in Baltimore.